MISCELLANEOUS

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We help gardeners by answering questions, contact us at ask@mgmanitoba.com

Question:   This question was from the ‘Gardening in the Heart’, ‘Chat with the Gardeners’ – Designing a Garden Naturally – Lisa Renner for John Harper
When designing flower gardens do you recommend a basic color palette that is repetitive to create unity throughout or do you suggest breaking up in sections.

Answer:
Color is great fun to work with but can get chaotic at times. And of course, flowering times can make things even more complicated. Imagine how many different plants you might need to keep a white garden in bloom all summer! I suggest developing a color palette that may shift seasonally, but you need not adhere slavishly to the palette. Contrasting colors add excitement to a flower garden.

In my own garden, the background colors (small trees, shrubs, vines, etc.) are primarily shades of green with a large red-purple component, mostly with shrubs such as different varieties of ninebark (Diabolo, Summer Wine, Centre Glow, Tiny Wine, etc. are all shades of purple). I enjoy both repeating these warm reddish hues as well as contrasting them with colors such as yellow-greens (Lemon Candy ninebark, Eldorado feather reed grass, and other yellow-foliaged plants, for example).

Once you have established a color palette for the background, you are free to explore numerous flowering possibilities in the middle ground and foreground. I sometimes use grey plants such as sage and white-flowering plants to soften harsh contrasts like pink and yellow. A number of types of sage (Genus Artemisia) do well in Winnipeg gardens (prairie sage, pasture sage, Silver Mound, etc.).

If you are planting a traditional English border, I suggest looking at Gertrude Jekyll’s drawings. If you are more interested in a wildflower meadow, try looking at pictures of Piet Oudolf’s gardens. I’ve taken the liberty of including a few photos from my own garden to illustrate some color combinations. These are in summer, so contain many warm colors. Spring is much cooler, with lots of purples and whites with accents in red, or other warm colors.
I hope this gives you some ideas. Happy gardening! -John Harper – Studio169 Landscape Architecture (studio169.ca)

         

Question:
I have had a snake plant for 4 to 5 months and it was okay until around 2 weeks ago and I put fertilizer in it. But all of sudden 2 leaves just turned mushy and green on the verge to fall apart. One if them did. I haven’t watered it after fertilizer I am not sure what is happening. There is a weird smell as well.
-yes it does have a drainage hole
-in winter I usually do not water it much and it has almost 2-2.5 weeks interval in between being watered.
-I usually check the 1-inch finger method. I just put my finger and see if the soil is dried out or not. And I don’t water it from above. I usually keep it in the water for 20 mins. and let it absorb the water itself
-the fertilizer was from Dollarama.

Answer:
The most important factor for plants is the amount of light that they are receiving. By moving your plant in front of the windows you should notice a difference. You mentioned that you fertilized, but did not explain what kind of fertilizer and how much you used. All fertilizers have 3 numbers which represent, in this order, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). For foliage plants a high first number, the nitrogen, is recommended, for example, 3-1-2. Always follow the usage directions. Never give more than is recommended. To be safe only give
it one quarter of the recommended dosage and more frequently. Also recommended is to never fertilize the plant when the soil is dry as this could cause roots to burn.

Snake plants are classified as succulent plants and therefore the soil should be dry before watering. If you use a plant saucer under the container be sure that there is no water in it. Have you transplanted your plant? Is the planting soil all soil or are there some rocks in the bottom? If all soil that is perfect!

The most recent photo, the plant in front of the window, shows that the plant is looking better than your first photos. Keep it in this location and monitor how it is growing. Be sure not to overwater as this tends to cause the leaves to rot such as your first sent photos show. You mentioned a “weird smell”, which is often associated with a fungus on the plant at soil level. Is it fishy smelling? Continue to monitor the plant and if the leaves continue to yellow at the base and the odour continues you possibly should dispose of the plant.

Question:
What are the best containers for starting vegetable seeds? Also I’d like info on best grow light system.

Answer:
Planting containers can be almost anything from recyclable containers, such as the ones that fresh mushrooms or salad greens are packaged in to wood fiber, peat, and reusable plastic grow sets. The most important thing to take into consideration is that the container has good drainage holes. The depth is also something to consider since some vegetables such as salad greens usually have shallow root systems so don’t need as deep a container as some others such as tomatoes or peppers. You may have to start your seeds in a shallow container first since seeds such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant do much better if they are provided with bottom heat (from a garden heat mat, not on top of the fridge as some information sites still give that suggestion). Once the plants are larger, you would transplant into deeper containers. Peat pots or pellets, are sometimes difficult to control even moisture and they also tend to break down if plants are in them for a longer period of time. If you are going to reuse containers, be sure to thoroughly clean them. Use sterile starter mix soil to reduce the chance of disease problems.

Grow lights are very important since lack of proper light just results in weak plants. Currently, the most popular grow lights for the home gardener are the T5 full spectrum LED lights with a rating of 6400K. There are a number of brand names and they are quite readily available. They are more expensive than the older florescent lights, but if you are just beginning seed starting, the T5’s are a good investment. Also, you can add on to some of the combination kits if you want to at some point, which is an important feature. The important thing about growing under lights is that you need to keep your plants within 12 to 20 cm or 4 to 6 inches from the lights. This is another reason that the LED’s are good since they are cool and won’t scorch your seedlings.

Please check the How-to-video on the MMGA website about “Seed Starting”   Click Here –     even though the information is about starting flowers, some information applies to any plants. Remember to always check the seed packages regarding when to plant, how deep to plant and soil temperature. Try not to plant too early, since most vegetables, other than your hot peppers and some heritage tomatoes, should not be started before late March.

Question:
I live in Stonewall, Manitoba. Not a great depth of topsoil. Anyways, we planted tulips along our driveway (100 of them) a couple of years ago. We planted them about 3-4 inches deep. Only about 1/3 of them came up and most are short and nasty looking. What have we done wrong? We want to plant some more. Please help!

Answer:
The important factors for planting tulips in our climate is to plant them deep, in a full sun location and in fertile but well-draining soil. Tulips are not as hardy as daffodils for growing here, and diminish in their plant and bloom size after a few years. When planting the bulbs, choose good sized ones, with no blemishes to cause any disease, as they will give you a better plant and flower size. You mention that you have little topsoil. The suggestion would be to amend the area with compost or other organic matter before planting. To plant tulip bulbs dig a hole approximately 6 inches deep, sprinkle some bone meal or a bone/blood meal combination if you have squirrels that would dig them up. The blood meal factor deters them, but if you have a dog, blood meal will attract them to dig the bulbs up as they are attracted to the blood factor. Place the bulb, tip side up, on the bottom of the hole and water at this time. Backfill with the removed soil and water once again.

Question:
I watched 2 of your videos and in both you mentioned a fertilizer that I couldn’t quite catch the name of. One video was about transplanting seedlings into pots and the other was about planting tomatoes vertically into the garden. I thought you said vegetable mike but didn’t have any luck when I tried to google that. I usually am quite casual about my gardening but this year hope to perfect the art of planting the tomato so any help would be appreciated.

Answer:
The product spoken of is Myke and it is not a fertilizer but a produced fungi. It is added at planting time and has the most benefits when in touch with the roots. In nature the fungi or mycorrhizae are natural forming but take many years to form a symbiotic relationship with the plant. This product speeds up that relationship and causes the roots to access the nutrients in the soil much faster giving you a healthier plant.
I have tested it on my seedlings when the product was first introduced about 9 years ago, with astonishing results. The plants I used it on were bigger, healthier and had a larger root system. Hence, I use it all the time now.
There are different varieties of Myke product depending on what plants you are using it on; Tree and Shrub, Tomato and Vegetable, and Annuals and Perennials. These products are available at most of the plant nurseries/garden centres in Manitoba.

Question:
I’m looking for suggestions for books on gardening in Zone 3 – perennials, shrubs, trees and annuals. A good reference book featuring gardening tips, hardiness etc. A starter book for new gardeners in my family. If you have a favourite, please share the title.

Answer:
There are quite a number of very good books on the market. Here are some of the suggestions:
The Prairie Garden – published yearly in Winnipeg with the articles written by experienced prairie gardeners.
‘Creating the Prairie Xeriscape’ (revised and updated) by Sara Williams
‘Gardening Naturally’
‘Best Groundcovers and Vines for the Prairies’
‘Best Trees and Shrubs for the Prairies’–the previous 3 books are by Hugh Skinner & Sara Williams
Lois Hole has numerous good books on the topics that you mentioned.

Question:
I am leaving my in-ground garden fallow this year to deal with the weeds. They’ve just become too much to deal with in the time I have available, so my plan is to summer fallow the garden much as we did with crops on the farm when I was a kid. In addition to that I am expanding the garden by putting in some raised beds, so we won’t be completely gardenless. I’ve got a garden tractor and some implements, so as long as there is no crop there, I can keep it tilled up. I’ve got questions though. I know summer fallowing is hard on the soil. I plan to keep adding leaves and compost as usual to keep as many nutrients as possible. It disturbs the worms and leads to erosion and all of that, but I don’t want to use chemicals and can’t keep up by hand weeding. Should I use a rototiller or a spring-tine cultivator? Should I alternate between the two? Should I keep watering with compost tea to keep the soil as active as possible? I do want as many weed seeds as possible to germinate so I can till them up, but would a monthly shot of compost tea make a difference? Would it be too much?
Should I add compost (leaf mold and manure) and top soil (4 way-mix) over the whole summer or just at the end of the year? Does it matter? The soil needs rejuvenation, and it’s easier for me to do a little at a time.

Answer:
Add a 6 to 8 inch layer of leaf mould and manure over the whole garden, not 4-way mix as this could contain weed seeds. Then cover the whole area with black plastic and leave it for the summer. Any active weeds would be killed by the heat generated under the black plastic and the worms that are in the soil would start to break down the manure and leaf mould. In the fall remove the plastic and till the whole lot under using a rototiller. Then add another layer of manure and leaf mould and leave this on over the winter. The following spring till this in then plant.
Compost tea is only really needed to provide extra nutrients for the plants that are growing.
For your raised beds you could make your own soil mixture following the Square-foot gardening method but first put landscape fabric under the beds to prevent the weeds coming through. Some 4-way mix is good and some contains a lot of weeds.
You could also put down a layer of wet newspaper (6 to 8 inches thick sprinkled with water to make them quite wet). Put the leaf mould and/or manure on top and still cover with black plastic. No point adding compost tea as it would feed the weeds.
Raised bed soil depends on how deep you want to make them. It is suggested to use three-way mix as four-way would settle too much. Keep any weeds down by putting down grass clippings between the rows and planting quite close together.
Square-foot gardening soil mix is blended compost, coarse vermiculite and peat moss.
The blended compost to use is sheep manure, cow/steer manure, worm castings, mushroom compost and generic-bagged black earth. You mix all of these together and then add the same amount of coarse vermiculite and peat moss by volume.
No weeds in this soil mix and it has all the nutrients , structure and water retention that plants need.

Question:
Can Mayer bees be kept in Manitoba?

Answer:
The bees you are referring to are Maya or Mayan bees. These bees live in tropical countries, are stingless and produce only small amounts of honey, less than a half cup per hive. This is why their honey is considered so valuable by the Aztec/Maya people in Mexico. These species of bees in tropical countries are of some interest to the Indigenous people of those countries.

Question:
Last week, I attended an introductory talk on vegetable gardening given by Master Gardener,  Jeanette Adams, and put on by Dig In Manitoba and Food Matters Manitoba. She mentioned bone and blood meal. Is this a product that is commonly carried at most gardening centres? Or is there somewhere specific I need to go to purchase this? Is there a gardening centre that you recommend for soil, composts and fertilizers?

Answer:
Bone and blood meal is available as a combined product in some of the garden centres or it is often sold separately. Blood Meal, which is high in nitrogen and also suggested as a method of keeping rabbits away from plants, is beccoming more diffiuclt to find by itself. Bone Meal, which is high in phosphorous and used to boost root development, can be found at most big box garden centres as well as the bigger greenhouse nurseries. Soil, fertilizers and composts or manures are available in bags from most of the hardware store garden centres and greenhouse nurseries too. The nurseries/greenhouses are more likely to carry the organic products such as the seaweed, fish or worm castings fertilizers. Call or check their websites for their product list. The MMGA does not promote or recommend any specific supplier of such products.

Question:
I have noticed that some of my plants have turned yellow and don’t seem to be growing well, but are not dying. What is the problem?

Answer:
Yellow leaves are a sign of a nutrient deficiency which is a result of the plant not being able to draw nitrogen from the soil. It is often caused by too much moisture. There are a number of ways to remedy this problem. The first is to loosen the soil around the plant to reduce any excess moisture. Some granular fertilizer with a fairly high nitrogen level can then be added. Adding some acidic organic matter such as peat moss or garden sulfur (follow recommended amounts) will lower the pH level in clay soils and make nutrients more readily available to the plants. If the problem persists, you can add chelated iron to the soil. Follow the directions as to the amount, and apply the solution to the soil only and not on the foliage as it occasionally damages plant leaves .Be careful when mixing the solution as it can stain pavement stones and concrete.

Question:
I have been told that I need to “harden off” my plants. What does this mean?

Answer:
“Hardening off” is the term used to describe the process of preparing bedding plants that have been grown indoors or in a greenhouse for outdoor conditions. Bedding plants grown indoors have been growing in comfortable conditions and can go into shock if planted outdoors without having a chance to get acclimatized. This process involves at least a week of gradual exposure to outdoor conditions. Start by putting the plants in a shaded, sheltered location for 2 to 3 hours the first day and gradually increase the number of hours and the amount of sunlight by one to two hours over the next five two seven days. Bring them back into the house or preferable a shed or garage until they can be left outside overnight for a couple of days. Be prepared to bring them in if there is a risk of frost. Reduce water and don’t fertilize during this “hardening off” period. Once the plants have toughened up and the risk of frost is past, they can be planted out. Choose a calm, partly cloudy day if possible, make sure to water the plants and the planting hole and move the plants into their summer spot. You can water them in using a transplanting fertilizer solution to give them a good start.  We have a How-to Video on Acclimatizing or Hardening Off you can watch:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=X_X1GLYzZtA

Question:
I’ve just built a 10 feet by 4 feet by 11 inch raised garden. I will plant only vegetables in this garden so want to put only organic soil mix in. Every website I read has a different opinion.
Do you have any recommendations at to:
1) where to buy bulk dependable organic soil mixes?
2) what do I ask for?
I have plenty of raked leaves/grass clippings from the fall and early spring. Am I correct to layer 1-2 inches of this on top of the raised garden once the rest of the soil is in? We compost but it won’t be ready until fall at which time we will mix that in with the soil.

Answer:
Bulk “organic” soil from a soil and landscape supplier would be questionable since they obtain most of their soils from farm land that is being developed into new housing subdivisions. Unless you know an organic farmer that would be willing to sell you a few bags of soil the only option is bagged soil. Some garden centres do carry “organic soil mixes” in bags but look for bags that say “certified” organic since sometimes organic simply means that it contains composted and natural ingredients. You could also mix up your own soil based on the square foot gardening method which is a combination of peat moss/ vermiculite/ and combined compost mix in a ratio of one third of each product. Each of these choices is expensive initially but once you have the base you will then maintain it by adding your compost and perhaps some additional bagged soil as needed. Since most bagged soil mixes do not contain actual “soil” you will have to use an organic fertilizer to provide some of the minerals and micro nutrients.
Regarding your grass clippings and leaves. You did not state on what surface your raised bed will be sitting on and if you have put some type of barrier on the bottom. If it’s on grass, you need to smother the grass by placing several layers of wet newspaper or cardboard over the grass. You could add a 12 cm (4 in) layer of grass and leaves before adding your soil mix. If it’s on bare soil, you should break up the soil layer and then add a layer of grass and leaves before placing your soil mix. By placing it underneath you are making sure that weed seeds won’t germinate. If you are sure that the grass clippings are mostly weed free, you could use them on top as a mulch once you have planted your vegetables. Once the plants are up and a few weeks old place the clippings next to the plants, but not over top. This will provide a mulch layer that will help control soil moisture and temperature. At the end of the season, this can be worked into the soil to add organic material.

Question:
I’ve been poring over the master gardener website and I’m really excited to sign up for courses and work towards my MG certification. I read in the orientation document that I can take the courses either through Assiniboine College or at University of Saskatchewan’s Hort Week in July. I’m leaning towards registering for Hort Week but I wanted to clarify whether it makes any difference that my certification would be coming from Saskatchewan in terms of becoming a master gardener in Manitoba. Is there anything special I have to do after completing the program through USask to make it applicable in Manitoba? Or can I simply complete the program and then apply for membership here?

Answer:
You can certainly take all your Master Gardener certification courses at Hort Week in Saskatoon. Some of our members have done this when the program was not available here in Manitoba. Once you receive your certification, having your 40 hours of volunteering to write your exam and passing, you would contact us and purchase a membership. The MMGA keeps records of your required Green Sheet yearly submissions, along with the minimum 20 hours of volunteering, hence maintaining your Master Gardener certification. Plus, six hours of refresher education courses to maintain your MG designation. These components are all based on International regulations for Master Gardeners in keeping informed and educated in providing knowledgeable volunteer information.

Question:
I am confused as to how one can “companion garden”. Does this mean that you grow certain types of plants beside each other or intermixed with one another? So for example beans and cucumbers, would you mix the seeds up and plant all at once or would you plant a row of beans and then the next row or beside this row, or in the case of a square-foot garden, do you plant them beside each other in their own ‘plot’? I know that this is probably a silly question but in using the most amount of space I hate my corn taking up so much space.

Answer:
Companion gardening means growing certain compatible edible plants beside one another. That is not to say growing them in the same row.
It is a method of growing edibles so that they may benefit from one another and thrive. Some plants simply do not like growing close to one another and by planting them close together will not produce as good a harvest. Some examples of planting vegetables that are in the same family, ie. nightshade family; tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, but potatoes also belong to this family and do not like being with their relatives. A perfect example too, is the “three sisters”, where one plants corn, beans and squash together. The corn offers the “poles” for the beans to climb, the beans offer the nitrogen for the other two plants, and the squash provides a ground cover offering shade to the other plant roots so they do not need to be watered as often. Also, covering the soil so that weed growth is minimized. This would be a good example for you to follow for growing your corn. Another example is cucumber, they do not like being close to potatoes but do fine by peas, beans and nasturtiums. In square-foot gardening one would plant one square of tomatoes and the next square of peppers, but not potatoes.

Question:
I have built a raised-bed garden – three by nine feet by twenty inches deep. Someone suggested I put some logs in the bottom of each bed to take up space and help drainage. We have a number of balsam trees that have died and I am wondering if it is a good idea to put pieces of these in before filling with soil.

Answer:
As Balsam trees are an evergreen and of the fir family, they would lower the pH of the soil causing the soil to be more acid based. Depending on what you wanted to plant in the garden it might be good to use these logs, for example, for Hydrangeas, which do very well in acid-based soil. But if this garden is to be used for vegetables the recommendation would be to not use the logs as a base as vegetables enjoy neutral pH soil. One can order a four-way mix soil by the yard, delivered, to use in this garden bed. Doing so would be the favourable option and recommendation.

Question:
Is it possible to grow a moss yard/garden in Manitoba?

Answer:
Yes, it is possible to grow a moss garden in Manitoba. Just as there are many species of moss found growing in the wild in Manitoba, they can also be grown in our backyards, given the growing conditions they need, generally damp. My moss garden is north facing and backed by a tall cedar hedge. Nevertheless, it is subject to several hours of late afternoon sun so many evenings I will mist it. I have never planted the moss, it simply grew and spread. Also, because weeding cannot be done with a hoe, hand weeding is required. The surface is so soft, knee pads are not necessary.

Question:
What is the best way to deter cats from using my planters and garden box as a litter box?

Answer:
Cats like to use dry areas as their litter boxes so if the soil was kept wetter it would be a deterrent. Also, people have used trimmings of branches from thorny rose bushes and laid them on top of the soil. Lee Valley does have little pads with spikes on them that you lay on top of the soil, again to keep cats away. Or there are cat and dog deterrent pellets at garden centres that you could sprinkle on the soil.

Question:

I started a new garden last year (I ripped out the sod from the front yard and filled with 4-way top soil) and it did not produce well at all.  This spring it has a lot of weeds and grass growing in it already.  I am wondering how best to get rid of the weeds before tilling and then what would be best to add to the garden to make it more fertile.

Answer:

Following are a few ideas for you involving what to do with your new garden.  The suggestions are involving both non-chemical and chemical solutions.

Here are the suggestions:

– depending what weeds they are, the majority could be controlled by tilling.  This would be the case if they are annual weeds.  Quite often when you buy 4-way mix these are annual weeds that are in it.  However the grass may have to be sprayed with Round-up beforehand.  A good solution would be to spray with Round-up for the grass and weeds, then add some well-rotted manure and work it in well with the tiller.  Also a soil test may indicate whether some fertilizer or amendment is required.
– 4-way mix composition is specific to the company from which you purchase the product.  Check back with them for an exact compostion % on all ingredients in the mix they sent to you.  Quite often there is insufficient organic material in it and too much dirty (weed seed infested) top soil.  It should probably have at least 35% well-rotted manure or other manure compost to be a good mix.  It should also include 40% sandy loam and 25% peat moss or partially composted leaf mulch.  To correct the soil this year you could hand dig all weeds first then add your choice of organic material and till.  You could also grow a legume crop to till in after the garden is finished and top dress again with compost or peat moss in the fall.  You may need to fertilize with a balanced 10-10-10 liquid application during the growing season.
– you can make an organic weedkiller using apple cider vinegar, salt and some Dawn (original) dish detergent.  You will probably need 2 applications depending on the weeds.  Then you should amend the soil with a bulk compost (ie. several yards to have about 2 inches on top) such as mushroom compost or bulk worm compost.  Reimer’s soils in Winnipeg sells mushroom compost by the bag or yard while Miracle Ranch on Garven Rd. in Birds Hill sells bulk worm compost.